IPRT - Irish Penal Reform Trust

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Ebulletin #85

15th April 2016

  1. Introduction
  2. Prison Litigation Conference
  3. Prison Litigation Workshop
  4. Penal Reform Updates
  5. EU Project: Harm Reduction in Prisons
  6. Become a Member

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1. Introduction

Welcome to the second edition of the IPRT Ebulletin in 2016.

In the last edition, we outlined IPRT's ten policy priorities for 2016-21 and the 5 key commitments we hope to see included in the next Programme for Government. Along with the rest of the country, we continue to wait for white smoke, and a clearer picture of the next Government's social justice and criminal justice priorities over the next few years (or until the next election?)

In the meantime, we welcome Minister Fitzgerald's statement on 6th April that it is intended to commence the Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions and Certain Disclosures) Act 2016 on 29th April 2016 - news that will have a very positive impact for thousands of people in Ireland, although IPRT remains disappointed that the legislation did not go much further.

In March and April, we have been busy with Prison Litigation workshops in Cork, Dublin and Limerick, and our Prison Litigation conference, which is hosted in association with the School of Law, Trinity College Dublin, on 22nd April 2016. (Everyone welcome.) We have also been finalising new reports on: monitoring infectious diseases in prison; the rights and needs of older prisoners; and the mental health needs of 18-24s in the criminal justice system, which forms part of our Turnaround Youth project.

Warm congratulations go to Dr Mary Rogan, former Chairperson of IPRT, who has recently been appointed Assistant Professor in the School of Law at Trinity College Dublin. We wish her very well in her new position.

In February 2016, we said goodbye to interns Katie Stevens and Sean Duggan, who had worked with IPRT since September 2015. Katie and Sean contributed enormously to IPRT's work over the 5 months, not least our social media presence. #bothgreatlymissed

In February we welcomed Karl McGrath (author of this edition of the Ebulletin) to IPRT, and Ciara Redmond started with IPRT in March 2016. We are delighted to have them on board!

As always, we welcome your feedback and comments: communications@iprt.ie

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2. Prison Litigation Conference

On 22 April 2016, IPRT and the School of Law, Trinity College Dublin will co-host a conference on the topic of prison litigation.

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This conference is part of a Europe-wide project towards building a Prison Litigation Network among practitioners and researchers working to defend prisoners’ rights across EU Member states. 

This conference will be of interest to solicitors, barristers, judiciary, academia and law students. IPRT will provide certificates of attendance at the workshop for CPD purposes.

The purpose of the conference is to examine the use of law in a prison context; compare prison litigation experiences between European jurisdictions and internationally; refresh the debate around effective access to justice in prison; and provide current updates to legal practitioners and judiciary.

The Hon. Mr Justice Gerard Hogan of the Court of Appeal will give the Opening Address. Speakers include: Senator Ivana Bacik, Reid Professor of Criminal Law, Criminology and Penology at Trinity College Dublin (Ireland); Dr Lisa Kerr, Queen's University, Ontario (Canada); Agnieska Martynowicz, researcher on the Prison Litigation Network project (Ireland); Pete Weatherby QC, Garden Court Chambers (United Kingdom); and Dilyana Angelova, Researcher, Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (Bulgaria). As part of the conference, IPRT will launch a new National Report on prison litigation in Ireland.

Conference details:

  • Venue: Trinity College Dublin (Synge Theatre, Arts Block), Dublin 2.
  • Date: Friday 22nd April, 2016
  • Time: 9.45 - 15.30 (registrations from 9.30am)
  • Cost: Attendance at the conference is free. Lunch will be provided.

Registrations: To register for the conference, click here.

Full programme and speaker biographies are available here.

For more information, please contact Marie Therese at mtpower@iprt.ie or tel: 01-8741400


3. Prison Litigation Workshop: Limerick

The Irish Penal Reform Trust/Prison Litigation Network has been hosting workshops in Dublin, Cork and Limerick on the topic of Prison Litigation during April 2016.

The final opportunity to attend the workshops is Wed 27th April 2016 in Limerick Strand Hotel, Ennis Road, Limerick. The workshop will run from 4.30-7.30pm. Attendance at the workshop is free and IPRT will provide certificates of attendance for CPD purposes.

The 3-hour workshop, which is delivered as an interactive learning session, provides participants with an outline of the current jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights in the areas of healthcare; segregation/solitary confinement; and the use of disciplinary measures and the systems of complaints. Additionally, the workshop will also address the use of CPT reports in ECHR and domestic cases as a source of evidential material.

To register for the Limerick Prison Litigation Workshop please email info@iprt.ie or tel: 01-8741400.


4. Penal Reform Updates

Recent Developments in the area of Penal Reform.

(A) The Fines Act 2016

In January 2016, IPRT strongly welcomed the commencement of the Fines (Payment and Recovery) Act 2014, including the provision that imprisonment will be used only as a sanction of "last resort" for fines default when all other sanctions have failed. For many years, IPRT has tirelessly campaigned to address the "damaging and wasteful" practice of imprisonment for fines default.

While we strongly welcome the commencement of the Act, the IPRT still has concerns around certain areas of the legislation which could be improved. These include:

  • The provision for fines to be paid in instalments does not apply to fines of less than €100, which for some families is a significant amount of money. IPRT believes that the limit below which a fine cannot be paid in instalments should be removed.
  • IPRT was also disappointed that a provision in the original Fines Act 2010 which had allowed greater flexibility with instalments to be repaid over 24 months in some cases, was reduced to repayment over 12 months in the 2014 Act.

In light of these (and other) concerns raised, the effectiveness of the Act to reduce the number of people imprisoned for fine defaults remains to be seen.

(B) Spent Convictions Update

After many years of tireless and resolute campaigning by IPRT, the Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions and Certain Disclosures) Act 2016 was signed into law by President Michael D. Higgins on the 11th February last. The effect of this legislation provides that people over aged 18 are no longer required by law to disclose certain eligible convictions after seven years for the purposes of employment, education, housing etc. This piece of legislation has been long overdue as Ireland was the sole country in the European Union lacking any provision for spent convictions. The enactment of this Act will now give opportunity to people with minor convictions histories to move on with their lives; finally free of their punishment, the Act will hopefully open numerous doors of opportunity for them.

The Minister for Justice and Equality has announced that the Act is to be commenced on the 29th April this year and has given further details (here) of the Spent Convictions Act with regards to the offences that the Act will cover.

However, whilst IPRT welcomes the enactment of legislation, the current legislation is quite limited in its reach and does not extend to people who have committed more than one offence (other than minor motoring/public order offences) regardless of the amount of time that has been passed. We hope that there will be a review of the operation of the legislation in the not so distant future towards widening its reach, including extending the legislation to cover more than one offence (other than minor motoring/public order offences) and lengthening the terms of imprisonment permissible under the Act to 48 months.

(C) CEDAW

On Wed 16th March, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) published its 'List of Issues' for the Irish Government prior to the submission of the combined sixth and seventh periodic reports of Ireland

IPRT has welcomed the inclusion of key questions at para. 24 on 'Disadvantaged Groups of Women', which reflect IPRT's submission on women prisoners. The most relevant issues and questions follows below; access the full List of Issues and Questions here.

24. Disadvantaged groups of women

"According to information before the Committee, the number of women committed to prison has more than doubled between 2007 and 2014, and that the majority of women are incarcerated for non-violent offences and the non-payment of fines. What steps have been taken to implement the Fines (Payment and Recovery) Act 2014, which seeks to reduce the high number of women who are incarcerated for defaulting on court-ordered fines? Please provide age disaggregated data on the number of women and girls in the State party’s prisons and other places of deprivation of liberty that are under detention pending trial and those serving prison sentences and the crimes that they committed. Please provide information on concrete measures to address the over-representation of Traveller women in prison and the prevalent stereotypes that increase the risk of their imprisonment. Please state the measures in place to protect pregnant female prisoners and to ensure access to sexual and reproductive health services. What measures are in place to enhance mental health services of women in prisons?"

Stay up-to-date with penal reform news and developments by visiting our website, following IPRT on Twitter and liking the IPRT page on Facebook.

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5. EU Project: Harm Reduction in Prisons

HRI Report Thmb(A) Monitoring Infectious Diseases and Harm Reduction in Prisons
All people, including prisoners, have a “right to the highest attainable standard of health”. But a recent report from Harm Reduction International (HRI) states that "there is an enormous gap, however, between public health and human rights standards and their effective implementation in places of detention" and that "this is particularly the case with regards to HIV, HCV and TB". The severe lack of harm reduction services for those in detention, around the globe, was identified as a major contributor to the situation. As such, the vital role of harm reduction services in ensuring some of the most important human rights and public health standards relating to HIV, HCV and TB in prisons was also highlighted.  

Alongside the report, HRI has published a monitoring tool to assist human rights-based prison monitoring mechanisms and other prison monitors to generate better informed, more consistent and sustained monitoring of issues relating to HIV, HCV, TB and harm reduction in prisons, and ultimately to help prevent situations and conditions that can lead to ill treatment in this context from occurring in the first place.

Both the report and the tool are part of the European Union co-funded project “Improving Prison Conditions by Strengthening Infectious Disease Monitoring”, led by Harm Reduction International. The project aims to reduce ill-treatment of persons in detention and improve prison conditions through improved and standardised monitoring and inspection mechanisms on HIV, HCV and TB.

HRI Report cover(B) New National Report on Ireland
This report, published April 2016 and titled 'Improving Prison Conditions by Strengthening the Monitoring of HIV, HCV, TB and Harm Reduction', forms part of the EU co-funded project mentioned above. The report, written by Catherine MacNamara, Lorraine Varley and Patricia Mannix McNamara, presents a mapping of the situation in Ireland and makes a series of recommendations to meet the challenges of infectious diseases and ensure respect for prisoners' human rights.

As the project partner in Ireland, IPRT plans to hold a seminar on the topic of Infectious Disease Monitoring in Prisons in June, 2016. Further details to follow in the coming weeks.


6. Become a Member

Would you like to become a member of IPRT?

Annual membership is just €10 for students, €40 for individuals, €80 for organisations/firms, and free to prisoners and their families.

We can’t promise you lots of free stuff, but by becoming a member of IPRT you will be expressing your support for urgent penal reform in Ireland.

Why not consider becoming an IPRT member now?

Learn more